As was widely expected, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s pleas for the US to “honor its international commitments” and “return to the negotiating table” during a speech at the UN General Assembly last week were promptly ignored. And with the full implementation of US oil sanctions in November rapidly approaching, Iran is already antagonizing the US as the regime hopes to spin the inevitable economic toll into a propaganda victory – if only to stave off another round of disruptive street protests that shook the country during the first weeks of 2018.
As tensions between the US and North Korea flared last summer, the media largely ignored several confrontations between Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops and US carriers, including a USS Nimitz-class carrier. The Trump Administration, of course, was eager to play down these incidents because they ran counter to its preferred narrative that the president’s tough rhetoric had cowed the Iranians into reducing their ballistic missile tests and rolling back other generally disruptive behavior.
But in the Iranian regime’s latest attempt to undercut this idea, a domestic television station has aired footage of an until-now unreported incident that occurred in March – a time when the Trump administration had insisted that these encounters had ceased – depicting IRGC ships and drones menacing a US carrier group centered around the USS Theodore Roosevelt in the all-important Strait of Hormuz. The footage was intended to be part of a documentary about the encounter set to air on Iranian television.
Here’s RT with more:
Iranian TV aired footage showing a March encounter when the USS Theodore Roosevelt was shadowed by a pack of fast attack craft apparently manned by the Islamic Republic’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
The camera, said to be installed on a nearby Iranian vessel, captures the USS Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, as well as her escort ship traversing waters of the Strait of Hormuz. Multiple Revolutionary Guard speedboats are seen closing in on the US carrier while an American helicopter is seen cruising over the area.
Some activity may be spotted on Roosevelt’s upper deck, with another helicopter preparing to take off. The video was part of an Iranian documentary on the encounter that took place on March 21 in Persian Gulf waters.
According to RT, the USS Roosevelt, which carries up to 130 aircraft and a crew of more than 5,000, had been stationed in the Gulf since 2017:
The 100,000-ton USS Roosevelt has been deployed to the Gulf since last year. Aside from a 5,000-strong crew, she usually carries up to 130 aircraft, including F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters, EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets as well as E-2 Hawkeye airborne early warning planes.
Mid-sea encounters between US and Iranian ships are not uncommon. The latest encounter took place in August last year, when an Iranian drone shadowed the USS Nimitz carrier overnight and came close enough to capture F-18 fighter jets on the flight deck. US Navy claimed the drone operator did not respond to repeated radio calls and represented a danger for the sailors.
According to a Stratfor analysis of publicly available information about the location of US carrier groups, the Theodore Roosevelt has since returned home. Presently, only one Marine Expeditionary Unit remain in the Strait.
In the video, Iranian sailors warn the Americans in a radio transmission to “keep well clear” of the Guard patrol boats and to “refrain from the threat or use of force in any manner.”
The footage of the incident, which shows several IRGC speedboats powering toward the USS Theodore Roosevelt as drones and a US helicopter fly overhead, is available below:
— Séamus Malekafzali (@Seamus_Malek) September 29, 2018
Later that month, another Iranian drone came within 200 feet of a F/A-18E Super Hornet while it was on its final approach to a Nimitz-class ship, forcing the pilot to change course. This inspired unnamed Pentagon officials accused Iran of acting in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner. At the time, Tehran demanded a formal apology from US Secretary of State for its purported breach of sovereignty.
The encounter is reminiscent of a notorious incident in 2016 when Iran seized 10 US soldiers and two ships after they became stranded and drifted into Iranian waters. President Trump brought up this incident during his address before the Republican National Convention in 2016, where he cited images of the captured seamen as examples of American weakness.
Given the Strait of Hormuz’s strategic importance to Iran’s oil-export business – which the US is hoping to crush by reimposing sanctions – it will be interesting to watch if Iran’s decision to release the footage now is a harbinger of further “close encounters” set to take place in this critical naval zone. After all, with Iran – whose economy is deteriorating at an accelerating pace – now rapidly approaching a state of having little to lose, a military escalation may be just the “irrational” act that provides a nationalistic exhaust valve to the troubled – some say doomed – regime.